Sophomore Colin Markus will shoulder the running load for the Skyhawks today. (PHOTO BY Emily Reynolds)
BY Jim Fenton
American International College owns a 17-0 record over the Skyhawks since the series began on Sept. 20, 1997, including a 31-10 victory on Oct. 5. at W.B. Mason Stadium.
If Stonehill can finally put an end to that losing streak today Ronald J. Abdow Field in Springfield, it will have definitely been worth the long wait.
The Skyhawks and Yellow Jackets, who are both 8-2 and shared the Northeast-10 Conference regular-season title, meet at 2 p.m. in the conference championship game with the winner likely bound for the NCAA Div. 2 tournament.
"You could say the odds are in our favor or that they have a lot of confidence,'' said Stonehill coach Robert Talley, whose team had not had a winning season since 1996. "We feel like we've gotten closer the last few years. If you want to be the best, you have to beat these teams.''
The Skyhawks, who have won five straight games since losing to AIC last month, have put together a sensational season after being picked to finish seventh in the NE-10 preseason poll.
They lost to 12th-ranked Bloomsburg University in the opener and AIC, but other than that, Stonehill has been rolling like never before since being in the NE-10.
"We are having a great season, an amazing season,'' said senior quarterback Logan Meyer. "A win on Saturday would be so special for this program and the school in general.''
Said senior running back Jamal Johnson of Brockton: "The season has been marvelous, to say the least. Every season you go in with high expectations and this year we're actually living up to the goals. The opportunity is there. We've just got to take advantage.''
The Stonehill defense will look to come up big again this weekend. (PHOTO BY Andrew Katsampes)
In order to get past AIC, winners of six in a row, the Skyhawks are going to put on a better performance than they did in the Oct. 5 loss at home when Lenroy Neysmith got the Yellow Jackets going by returning the opening kickoff 98 yards for a quick score.
AIC never trailed, holding a 17-3 halftime lead and pulling away in the second half.
"The first time we played AIC was kind of a rough patch,'' said wide receiver Nate Robitaille, who leads the NE-10 with 114 receiving yards per game and is second with 12 touchdown catches. "If we're not putting up points, the defense is going to be on the field the whole game and that's what happened.''
Said junior linebacker Brian Harrington of Rockland: "We didn't play like ourselves. You look at the past four or five games and just see a completely different team. I think we're a lot more aggressive.
"We know what we're supposed to do and we're doing it. In the AIC game, as a team collectively, we kind of second-guessed ourselves like, what could we do?''
The AIC defense limited Stonehill's offense to 11 first downs, 35 rushing yards and 189 yards of total offense, a rare off day for the Skyhawks this season.
"We have to be ready to play physical football,'' said Talley, whose program had never contended for a NE-10 title prior to this season. "That's what they do. They took us out of our game a little bit.''
The Yellow Jackets' offense is led by junior quarterback Kevin Arduino, who has rushed for 841 yards and has a conference-leading 17 rushing TDs. He has also thrown for 2,171 yards and 13 TDs with 10 interceptions.
AIC's defense includes freshman reserve linebacker Jerrod Shelby of Brockton, who has made 25 tackles with two forced fumbles in 10 games.
In the 18th meeting between the Skyhawks and the Yellow Jackets, Stonehill is hoping to break through and earn a special prize.
"I don't think anyone on our team has any doubts,'' said Robitaille. "It's a different atmosphere. We're playing with a different edge right now. I think it would mean a lot for everyone here if we could win this.''